December 6 2013 Latest news:
By John Elworthy , The Editor
Monday, November 5, 2012
THE casting vote of planning committee chairman Phil Hatton was used to allow a factory owned by Fenland councillor and former Cabinet member Jan French to be converted into flats.
Cllr French, and her husband Mick, can now go ahead with converting one of two industrial units they own in Woodville Drive, Westry, to housing.
The committee approved the application despite objections from the owner of a neighbouring garage: he said dividing up the building to create housing one side would affect his business.
Also opposed to the scheme was independent councillor Mark Archer who wanted to know about a marketing campaign to try and continue to let the unit for commercial uses.
Geoff Taylor, the agent for Cllr French – until last month a member of the planning committee until her removal by Council Leader Alan Melton over the supermarket-gate scandal- said his client had been “very anxious” to find a tenant.
He said Cllr French – the mayor of March- and her husband had even offered the premises without rent to a party who were unable though to proceed. He said his clients did not pay over £5,000 a year in business rates to have the unit left empty.
Cllr Archer tried to get details of the marketing report conducted by the Cllr and Mrs French but the council said this remained confidential. The planning committee was told marketing had been undertaken “in accordance with policies”.
Mr Taylor was quizzed on access and said it was shared and his clients “see it as an advantage to remove the commercial element from it, although there is satisfactory visibility at the entrance”.
Mr Taylor said Fenland Council refuse services would not be available to the new homes because of the distance from the road. Instead waste would be collected by a private contractor.
One objector said the premises were not very old, in clean condition and converting them to flats “would be a crying shame”. He alleged the premises could attract a tenant and said a local plant hire firm had recently been refused a tenancy of the unit.
Councillor Alex Miscandlon asked if officers were satisfied that the unit has been marketed appropriately? Officers referred to the conclusion in the report, where it is felt that appropriate marketing has been undertaken;
Councillor David Connor, who runs a scrap metal business in March, said that in his opinion if the unit has been marketed properly and was difficult to let then approval for change of use should be give.
Cllr Archer added that he could see no merit in this application.
It was proposed by Councillor Florrie Newell, seconded by Cllr Connor and decided by the chairman’s casting vote to approve the change of use. The approval had been recommended by officers.